Category Archives: Wisdom

Best Commencement Speeches: Chadwick Boseman

alex atkins bookshelf wisdom

On May 12, 2018, a young actor delivered the 150th commencement speech to a capacity crowd of over 20,000 people at Howard University. There was tremendous excitement and anticipation surrounding his appearance since his recent film was one of the highest grossing films that year, earning over $1 billion worldwide at the box office. Little did the graduates know that the actor was not just a hero in films, he was a hero in real life as he courageously and silently was battling colon cancer since 2016. After his death in August 2020, his words of wisdom on that summer day would be even more meaningful to that graduating class — and now the world. Who is this actor? The then 42-year-old American actor Chadwick Boseman, star of Black Panther, two Avengers films, Get On Up, and Marshall. Variety film critic Owne Gleiberman observed, “Boseman was a virtuoso actor who had the rare ability to create a character from the outside in and the inside out [and he] knew how to fuse with a role, etching it in three dimensions… That’s what made him an artist, and a movie star, too. Yet in Black Panther, he also became that rare thing, a culture hero.” Michele and Barack Obama added, “To be young, gifted, and Black; to use that power to give them heroes to look up to; to do it all while in pain – what a use of his years.” Dr. Wayne Frederick, president of Howard University, expressed his conflicting emotions: “I feel strange. I am overjoyed — not that I got to know him — but that he lived and in doing so, he taught us how to live fully and how to embrace life through all its opportunities, flaws, and weaknesses. I don’t think he hid from any of those things. He wore them gracefully. His ability to set that example is so touching and that, to me, is what is resonating now. He lived fully. His time wasn’t short. He maximized what he had.”

One of the most quoted passages from the speech is this: “Purpose crosses disciplines. Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill. Whatever you choose for a career path, remember, the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.” Here is the full text of Chadwick Boseman’s inspiring commencement speech to the graduates at Howard University:

“It is a great privilege, graduates to address you on your day, a day marking one of the most important accomplishments of your life to date. This is a magical place, a place where the dynamics of positive and negative seem to exist in extremes. I remember walking across this yard on what seemed to be a random day, my head down lost in my own world of issues like many of you do daily. I’m almost at the center of the yard. I raised my head and Muhammad Ali was walking towards me. Time seemed to slow down as his eyes locked on mine and opened wide. He raised his fist to a quintessential guard.

I was game to play along with him, to act as if I was a worthy opponent. What an honor to be challenged by the GOAT, the Greatest Of All Time, for a brief moment. His face was as serious as if I was Frazier in the Thrilla in Manila. His movements were flashes of a past greater than I can imagine. His security let the joke play along for a second before they ushered him away, and I walked away floating like a butterfly. I walked away amused at him, amused at myself, amused at life for this moment that almost no one would ever believe. I walked away light and ready to take on the world. That is the magic of this place. Almost anything can happen here. HU! You know!

Howard University, I was riding here and I heard on the radio, somebody called it Wakanda University. But it has many names, the Mecca, the Hilltop. It only takes one hour, one tour of the physical campus to understand why we call it the Hilltop. Every day is leg day here. That’s why some of you have cars. During my junior and senior years, I lived in a house off campus at Bryant Street. For those of you… That’s right, Bryant Street. For those of you who don’t know what that means, that’s at the bottom of the hill where the incline gets real. Almost every day I would walk the full length of the hill to Fine Arts, where most of my classes were, carrying all of my books, because once you walked that far on foot, you are not walking back home until it’s time to go home for good.

But beyond the physical campus, the Hilltop represents the culmination of the intellectual and spiritual journey you have undergone while you were here. You have been climbing this academic slope for at least three or four years. For some of you, maybe even a little bit more. Throughout ancient times, institutions of learning have been built on top of hills to convey that great struggle is required to achieve degrees of enlightenment. Each of you had your own unique difficulties with the hill. For some of you, the challenge was actually academics. When you hear the words magna cum laude, cum laude, you know that’s not you. That’s not you. You worked hard. You did your best, but you didn’t make A’s or B’s, sometimes C’s. You never made the dean’s list, but that’s okay. You are here on top of the hill.

I want to say something to that. You know, sometimes your grades don’t give a real indication of what your greatness might be. So, it really is okay. For others it was financial. You and your family struggled to make ends meet. Every semester of your matriculation you had to stand in one line to get to another line, to get to another line for somebody that might help you. You had to work an extra job, or two, but you are here.

For a lot of you, not all, but a lot of you, your hardest struggle was social. Some of you never fit in. You were never as cool and as popular as you wanted to be, and it bothers you. So, your social struggles here became psychological. Even though you made it up to hill, you carried the baggage of rejection with you, but you are here.

Some of you went through something traumatic. You made it to the top of the hill but not without scars and bruises. Some of you fit in too much. You were on the yard rapping on your frat block when you were supposed to be in class. Or you got caught up into DC party life. I know how that is. I mean, we are right here in the midst of the city. Sometimes you forgot you were in school. You probably could have graduated with honors, but instead you are getting an “Oh yeah” degree today. Oh yeah, I have class. Oh yeah, I have that paper due. Oh yeah, I have a final. You were literally too cool for school. You waited until the last minute to do your best work and it’s a wonder that you made it up the hill at all because you carry the baggage of too much acceptance.

Most of you graduating here today struggled against one or more of the impediments or obstacles I’ve mentioned in order to reach this hilltop. When completing a long climb, one first experiences dizziness, disorientation and shortness of breath due to the high altitude, but once you become accustomed to the climb, your mind opens up to the tranquility of the triumph.

Oftentimes, the mind is flooded with realizations that were, for some reason, harder to come to when you were at a lower elevation. At this moment, most of you need some realizations because right now you have some big decisions to make. Right now, I urge you in your breath, in your eyes, in your consciousness — invest in the importance of this moment and cherish it. I know some of you might’ve partied last night. You should, you should celebrate, but this moment is also a part of that celebration. So, savor the taste of your triumphs today. Don’t just swallow the moment whole without digesting what has actually happened here. Look down over what you conquered and appreciate what God has brought you through.

Some of you here struggled against the university itself. This year, students protested and took over the A building, formulated a list of demands and negotiated with our president and administration to determine the direction of our institution. It’s impressive. Similarly, during my years here at Howard, we also protested and took over the A building in order to preserve Howard’s alum, in order to preserve Howard’s annual appropriations from Congress. President H. Patrick Swygert decided to reduce the number of colleges at the university. By his plan, engineering would need to merge with architecture. Nursing would merge with allied health and the fine arts, my school, will be absorbed by arts and sciences. That’s how we saw it, absorbed.

For many of us in fine arts, this signaled to us that our curriculums, all the curriculums of students following us, might become watered-down concentrations. This undermined the very legacy we were proud to be a part of and aimed to continue. The fine arts program had produced Phylicia Rashad, Debbie Allen, Isaiah Washington, Richard Wesley, Donny Hathaway, Roberta Flack, just to name a few. We felt that… Yes, yes. You could go on and on. You can go on and on. You can go on and on. We felt that we could compete with students from Juilliard, NYU and Carroll Arts as long as we continued to have a concentrated dosage that rivaled a conservatory experience, but without it…

Although we took over the A building for several days and presented our arguments to President Swygert and the administration, the schools were still merged. Thus, the current collection or formation of schools exists. That’s why I view your recent protest as such an accomplishment for both sides of the debate, student and administration. I didn’t come here to take sides. My interest is what’s best for the school.

A Howard University education is not just about what happens in the classroom, students. In some ways, what you were able to do exemplifies some of the skills you learned in the classroom. It takes the education out of the realm of theory and into utility and practice. Obviously, your organizational skills were unprecedented. I’m told that you organized shifts so that you could at least continue some of your classes. We missed all our classes. We were in the A building. I’m told that through donations, there was always an ample helping of food. I probably ate a slice of pizza during the entirety of our three-day protest.

Your organization and planning was impeccable. You received the majority of your demands, making a significant impact on those who came after you. As is often the case, those that follow most often enjoy the results of the progress you gained. You love the university enough to struggle with it. Now, I have to ask you that you have to continue to do that even now that you received your demands. Even if you are walking today, you have to continue to do that. Everything that you fought for was not for yourself. It was for those that come after. You could have been disgruntled and transferred, but you fought to be participants in making this institution the best that it can be. But I must also applaud President Wayne Frederick and the administration for listening to the students.

Your freedom of speech was exercised in a way where you can contribute to this place. It also shows that you can contribute to the democracy. The administration and the campus police at the time when I was protesting were not nearly as open-minded as this current one. I know this was a difficult time, but because of both of you, I believe Howard is a few steps closer to the actualization of its potential, the potential that many of us have dreamed for it. Students, your protests are also promising because many of you will leave Howard and enter systems and institutions that have a history of discrimination and marginalization. The fact that you have struggled with this university that you love is a sign that you can use your education to improve the world that you are entering.

I was on a roll when I entered the system of entertainment, theater, television and film. In my first New York audition for a professional play I landed the lead role. From that play, I got my first agent. From that agent, I got an on-screen audition. It was a soap opera. It wasn’t Third Watch. It was a soap opera on a major network. I scored that role, too. I felt like Mike Tyson when he first came on the scene knocking out opponents in the first round. With this soap opera gig, I was already promised to make six figures, more money than I had ever seen. I was feeling myself. But once I got the first script, with soap operas you very often get the script the night before and then you shoot the whole episode in one day with little to no time to prepare.

Once I saw the role I was playing, I found myself conflicted. The role wasn’t necessarily stereotypical. A young man in his formative years with a violent streak pulled into the allure of gang involvement. That’s somebody’s real story. Never judge the characters you play. That’s what we were always taught. That’s the first rule of acting. Any role played honestly can be empowering, but I was conflicted because this role seemed to be wrapped up in assumptions about us as Black folk. The writing failed to search for specificity. Plus, there was barely a glimpse of positivity or talent in the character, barely a glimpse of hope. I would have to make something out of nothing. I was conflicted. Howard had instilled in me a certain amount of pride and for my taste this role didn’t live up to those standards.

It was just my luck that after filming the first two episodes, execs of the show called me into their offices and told me how happy they were with my performance. They wanted me to be around for a long time. They said if there was anything that I needed, just let them know. That was my opening. I decided to ask them some simple questions about the background of my character, questions that I felt were pertinent to the plot. Question number one: Where is my father? The exec answered, “Well, he left when you were younger.” Of course. Okay. Okay. Question number two: In this script, it alluded to my mother not being equipped to operate as a good parent, so why exactly did my little brother and I have to go into foster care? Matter-of-factly, he said, “Well, of course she is on heroin.”

That could be real, I guess, but I didn’t want to assume that’s what it was. If we are around here assuming that the Black characters in the show are criminals, on drugs and deadbeat parents, then that would probably be stereotypical, wouldn’t it? That word stereotypical lingered. One of the execs pulled out my resume and began studying it. The other exec wore a smile and was now trying to live up to what they had promised me only a few moments before — “If there is anything you need, just let us know.” She said, “As you have seen, things move really fast around here, but we are more than happy to connect you with the writers if you have suggestions.”

“Yeah,” I said, “that would be great.” I said, “because I’m just trying to do my homework on this. I didn’t know if you guys have decided on all the facts, but maybe there are some things we could come up with, some talent or gift that we can build. Maybe he is really good at math or something. He has to be active. I’m doing my best not to play this character like a victim.”

“So, you went to Howard University, huh?” the exec holding my resume interrupted, peeking over the pages. “Yes,” I said proudly. He slid my resume back in his desk and said, “Thank you for your concerns. We will be watching you.”

I left the office. I shot the episode I had come in to shoot on that day. Probably the best one I did out of the three because I got one that was bothering me off my chest. I was let go from that job on the next day. I got a phone call from my agent. They decided to go another way. The questions that I asked set the producers on guard and perhaps paved the way for less stereotypical portrayal for the Black actor that stepped into the role after me.

As the Scripture says, “I planted the seed and Apollos watered it, but God kept it growing.” God kept it growing. Yet and still, when you invest in a seed, watching it grow without you, that is a bitter pill to swallow, a bitter pill. Anybody that has ever been fired knows what I’m talking about. Even if you really don’t want the job, when they let you go, it’s like any break-up, you act like you don’t care. I didn’t need that damn job anyway. I didn’t need them.

But when you have those moments alone, you start to wonder if there was a better way to handle it. If you could have handled it better maybe you could help your family. Then before you know it, you are broke. You find yourself scraping together change just so you can ride the subway, so that you could get the next job. Maybe if you could book something else that would eclipse the feeling of doubt that’s building, but it seems like you can’t pay them to hire you now.

My agents at the time told me it might be a while before I got a job acting on screen again. Well, that was fine because I never wanted to act in the first place. And I definitely didn’t want to be caught dead going after a fake Hollywood pipe dream. I’m more of a writer, director anyway, so forget their stories. I can tell my own stories. But am I actually blackballed? “We are hesitant about sending you out to some people right now because there is a stigma that you are difficult.” As conflicted as I was before I lost the job, as adamant as I was about the need to speak truth to power, I found myself even more conflicted afterwards. I stand here today knowing that my Howard University education prepared me to play Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall and T’Challa.

But what do you do when the principle and the standards that were instilled in you here at Howard closed the doors in front of you? Sometimes you need to get knocked down before you can really figure out what your fight is and how need to fight it. At some point, my mind reverted back to my experiences here, to the professors that challenged me and struggled against me, Professor Robert Williams, Doctor Singleton, George Epstein, to name a few, the ones that will fail you out of the goodness of their hearts.

This may be hard to grasp for some of you right now, but I even considered President Swygert and how negotiating with him was practice for a world that was considerably more cruel and unforgiving than any debate here, one that had no interest in my ideals and beliefs. How would I maneuver through all of this?

Finally, I thought of Ali in the middle of the yard in his elder years, drawing from his victories and his losses. At that moment I realized something new about the greatness of Ali and how he carried his crown. I realized that he was transferring something to me on that day. He was transferring the spirit of the fighter in me. He was transferring the spirit of the fighter to me. He was transferring the spirit of the fighter to me. Sometimes you need to feel the pain and sting of defeat to activate the real passion and purpose that God predestined inside of you. God says in Jeremiah, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Graduating class, hear me well on this day. This day, when you have reached the hilltop and you are deciding on next jobs, next steps, careers, further education, you would rather find purpose than a job or career. Purpose crosses disciplines. Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill. Whatever you choose for a career path, remember, the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose. When I dared to challenge the system that would relegate us to victims and stereotypes with no clear historical backgrounds, no hopes or talents, when I questioned that method of portrayal, a different path opened up for me, the path to my destiny.

When God has something for you, it doesn’t matter who stands against it. God will move someone that’s holding you back away from the door and put someone there who will open it for you if it’s meant for you. I don’t know what your future is, but if you are willing to take the harder way, the more complicated one, the one with more failures at first than successes, the one that has ultimately proven to have more meaning, more victory, more glory then you will not regret it.

Now, this is your time. The light of new realizations shines on you today. Howard’s legacy is not wrapped up in the money that you will make but the challenges that you choose to confront. As you commence to your paths, press on with pride and press on with purpose. God bless you. I love you, Howard. Howard forever!”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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For further reading: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/howard-university-president-reflects-on-chadwick-bosemans-commencement-speech-it-shows-his-grace
cnn.com/2020/08/29/us/howard-university-commencement-speech-chadwick-boseman-trnd/index.html

 


Secrets to Surviving the Covid-19 Crisis According to Centenarians

Living in 2020 sucks, to put it bluntly. Covid-19 illness and death, sheltering-in-place, financial collapse, massive unemployment, businesses failing, corruption in government, the inept Trump administration, systemic police brutality and racism, white nationalism, the climate crisis… I could go on. How does one navigate one of the most challenging and troubling times in America’s history? In The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood talks about the importance of perspective: “What I need is perspective. The illusion of depth, created by a frame, the arrangement of shapes on a flat surface. Perspective is necessary. Otherwise there are only two dimensions. Otherwise you live with your face squashed up against a wall, everything a huge foreground, of details, close-ups, hairs, the weave of the bedsheet, the molecules of the face. Your own skin like a map, a diagram of futility, criscrossed with tiny roads that lead nowhere. Otherwise you live in the moment. Which is not where I want to be.” Amen to that.

Imagine being born in 1920 and witnessing some of the most turbulent times in American history: the Pearl Harbor attack, World War II, the Wall Street Crash of 1929, The Great Depression (1929-1933), the Vietnam War and protests (1955-75), Black Monday (1987), the 9/11 attacks (2001), the financial crisis of 2007-2008 — only to find yourself in 2020 where several crises seem to be rolled into one. It’s an exclusive club: people who have lived more than 100 years, known as centenarians. For the most part, they have lived a happy, fulfilling lives. So our question for them is: how did they do it?

In interviews, centenarians have generously shared their secrets to living a happy, fulfilling life; however, on another level, these insights can be viewed as the best way to get through these very challenging, uncertain times:

1: Happiness comes from what we do. Life is about really living and making memories with people you care about. ““I have so many beautiful memories. I got to do all the things I wanted to.”

2: Happiness comes from living in the now. You cannot live in the past, so don’t dwell on it — focus on the present.

3: Happiness comes from having a positive attitude and being optimistic. “Decide to be content. Don’t chase happiness. Just be satisfied.”

4: Love and a good partnership are critical for a long life. “Being happily married and happy in general is the remedy for all illness.”

5: Learn to adapt and change as circumstances changes. “Everything must pass.”

6: Be kind and help others.

7: Be curious: always keep learning

8: Eat well, get enough sleep, and take care of your health.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

Read related posts: Wisdom of a Grandmother
Wisdom of Tom Shadyac
Wisdom of Morrie Schwartz

For further reading: https://anxiety-gone.com/9-powerful-life-lessons-from-100-year-olds/


Best Commencement Speeches: Rick Rigsby

alex atkins bookshelf wisdom

Dr. Rick Rigsby is an ordained minister and President and CEO of Rick Rigby Communications; he travels around the world as a motivational speaker teaching people about leadership principles. Prior to that, Rigsby was an award-winning television news reporter, a college professor at CSU Fresno and Texas A&M (where he earned the Outstanding Teaching Award), and served as chaplain and character coach for the Texas A&M Aggies football team. He has earned four degrees: BA in Mass Communications; MA in Public Communications; MA in Biblical Theology; and a PhD in Critical Media Studies. Rigsby is the author of the bestselling book Lessons From a Third Grade Dropout: How the Timeless Wisdom of One Man Can Impact an Entire Generation. Rigsby was born in Vallejo, California in 1956 to working class parents. His mother was a forklift operator at the Venetia Arsenal and his father was a cook at the California Maritime Academy. In his motivational speeches, Rigsby draws on his life experiences to share the wisdom of his working class parents who taught him enduring values and life lessons and inspired lifelong learning. As his website explains: “Inspired by a genuine conviction to help people realize their full potential [Rigsby] brings a combined four decades of experience and expertise… [He] encourages, inspires and challenges people at every level to dream bigger, stretch beyond comfort zones and achieve the impossible!” Below is Rigby’s powerful, poignant, and inspiring commencement speech, titled “Lessons from a Third Grade Dropout” to the graduating class of the California State University Maritime Academy in Vallejo on April 22, 2017. It is filled with several insightful and transformative life lessons drawn from his personal journey. It is no wonder that this graduation speech has been viewed over 14 million times:

The wisest person I ever met in my life, a third-grade dropout. Wisest and dropout in the same sentence is rather oxymoronic, like jumbo shrimp. Like fun run — ain’t nothing fun about it. Like Microsoft Works — y’all don’t hear me. I used to say [I] like country music — but I’ve lived in Texas so long, I love country music now. Yeah! I hunt. I fish. I have cowboy boots and cowboy… Y’all, I’m a blackneck redneck. Do you hear what I’m saying to you? [It’s] no longer oxymoronic for me to say country music and it’s not oxymoronic for me to say third grade and dropout.

That third grade dropout, the wisest person I ever met in my life, who taught me to combine knowledge and wisdom to make an impact, was my father, a simple cook, wisest man I ever met in my life. Just a simple cook. Left school in the third grade to help out on the family farm but just because he left school doesn’t mean his education stopped. Mark Twain once said, “I’ve never allowed my schooling to get in the way of my education.” My father taught himself how to read, taught himself how to write, decided in the midst of Jim Crowism, as America was breathing the last gasp of the Civil War, my father decided he was going to stand and be a man, not a black man, not a brown man, not a white man, but a man. He literally challenged himself to be the best that he could all the days of his life.

I have four degrees. My brother is a judge. We’re not the smartest ones in our family — it’s a third grade dropout daddy, a third grade dropout daddy who was quoting Michelangelo, saying to us boys, “I won’t have a problem if you aim high and miss, but I’m gonna have a real issue if you aim low and hit.” A country mother quoting Henry Ford, saying, “If you think you can or if you think you can’t, you’re right.” I learned that from a third grade drop. Simple lessons, lessons like these. “Son, you’d rather be an hour early than a minute late.” We never knew what time it was at my house because the clocks were always ahead. My mother said, for nearly 30 years, my father left the house at 3:45 in the morning, one day, she asked him, “Why, Daddy?” He said, “Maybe one of my boys will catch me in the act of excellence.”

I want to share a few things with you. Aristotle said, “You are what you repeatedly do.” Therefore, excellence ought to be a habit, not an act. Don’t ever forget that. I know you’re tough. I know you’re seaworthy, but always remember to be kind, always. Don’t ever forget that. Never embarrass Mama. Mm-hmm. If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. If Daddy ain’t happy, don’t nobody care — but I’m going to tell you.

Next lesson: lesson from a cook over there in the galley. “Son, make sure your servant’s towel is bigger than your ego.” I want to remind you cadets of something as you graduate. Ego is the anesthesia that deadens the pain of stupidity. You all might have a relative in mind you want to send that to. Let me say it again: ego is the anesthesia that deadens the pain of stupidity. Pride is the burden of a foolish person.

John Wooden coached basketball at UCLA for a living, but his calling was to impact people, and with all those national championships, guess what he was found doing in the middle of the week? Going into the cupboard, grabbing a broom and sweeping his own gym floor. You want to make an impact? Find your broom. Every day of your life, you find your broom. You grow your influence that way. That way, you’re attracting people so that you can impact them.

Final lesson. “Son, if you’re going to do a job, do it right.” I’ve always been told how average I can be, always been criticized about being average, but I want to tell you something. I stand here before you before all of these people, not listening to those words, but telling myself every single day to shoot for the stars, to be the best that I can be. Good enough isn’t good enough if it can be better, and better isn’t good enough if it can be best.

Let me close with a very personal story that I think will bring all this into focus. Wisdom will come to you in the unlikeliest of sources, a lot of times through failure. When you hit rock bottom, remember this. While you’re struggling, rock bottom can also be a great foundation on which to build and on which to grow. I’m not worried that you’ll be successful. I’m worried that you won’t fail from time to time. The person that gets up off the canvas and keeps growing, that’s the person that will continue to grow their influence.

Back in the ’70s, to help me make this point, let me introduce you to someone. I met the finest woman I’d ever met in my life. Mm-hmm. Back in my day, we’d have called her a brick house. This woman was the finest woman I’d ever seen in my life. There was just one little problem. Back then, ladies didn’t like big old linemen. The Blind Side hadn’t come out yet. They liked quarterbacks and running back. We’re at this dance, and I find out her name is Trina Williams from Lompoc, California. We’re all dancing and we’re just excited. I decide in the middle of dancing with her that I would ask her for her phone number. Trina was the first — Trina was the only woman in college who gave me her real telephone number.

The next day, we walked to [Baskin-Robbins] ice cream parlor. My friends couldn’t believe it. This has been 40 years ago, and my friends still can’t believe it. We go on a second date and a third date and a fourth date. Mm-hmm. We drive from Chico to Vallejo so that she can meet my parents. My father meets her. My daddy. My hero. He meets her, pulls me to the side and says, “Is she psycho?” Anyway, we go together for a year, two years, three years, four years. By now, Trina’s a senior in college. I’m still a freshman, but I’m working some things out. I’m so glad I graduated in four terms, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan.

Now, it’s time to propose, so I talk to her girlfriends, and it’s California. It’s in the ’70s, so it has to be outside, have to have a candle and you have to some chocolate. Listen, I’m from the hood. I had a bottle of Boone’s Farm wine. That’s what I had. She said, “Yes.” That was the key. I married the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen in my… Y’all ever been to a wedding and even before the wedding starts, you hear this? “How in the world?” It was coming from my side of the family! We get married. We have a few children. Our lives are great.

One day, Trina finds a lump in her left breast. Breast cancer. Six years after that diagnosis, me and my two little boys walked up to Mommy’s casket and for two years my heart didn’t beat. If it wasn’t for my faith in God, I wouldn’t be standing here today. If it wasn’t for those two little boys, there would have been no reason for which to go on. I was completely lost. That was rock bottom. You know what sustained me? The wisdom of a third grade dropout, the wisdom of a simple cook.

We’re at the casket. I’d never seen my dad cry, but this time I saw my dad cry. That was his daughter — Trina was his daughter, not his daughter-in-law, and I’m right behind my father about to see her for the last time on this Earth, and my father shared three words with me that changed my life right there at the casket. It would be the last lesson he would ever teach me. He said, “Son, just stand. You keep standing. You keep standing no matter how rough the sea, you keep standing, and I’m not talking about just water. You keep standing. No matter what you don’t give up.” I learned that lesson from a third grade dropout. And as clearly as I’m talking to you today, these were some of [my wife’s] last words to me. She looked me in the eye and she said, “It doesn’t matter to me any longer how long I live. What matters to me most is how I live.”

I ask y’all one question, a question that I was asked all my life by a third grade dropout. How you living? How you living? Every day, ask yourself that question. How you living? Here’s what a cook would suggest you to live, this way: that you would not judge, that you would show up early, that you’d be kind, that you make sure that that servant’s towel is huge and used, that if you’re going to do something, you do it the right way. That cook would tell you this: that it’s never wrong to do the right thing, that how you do anything is how you do everything, and in that way, you will grow your influence to make an impact. In that way, you will honor all those who have gone before you who have invested in you. Look in those unlikeliest places for wisdom. Enhance your life every day by seeking that wisdom and asking yourself every night, “How am I living?”

May God richly bless you all. Thank you for having me here.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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Wisdom of a Grandmother
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For further reading: rickrigsby.com
http://www.news.uwa.edu.au/201310186163/features/nine-life-lessons-graduate
Speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bg_Q7KYWG1g


John Steinbeck’s Letter to His Son About Love

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomA father imparts many things to his children, including guidance, values, morals, and wisdom. Some of the most cherished books in my library are collections of letters written by notable authors to their children. One memorable letter was written by John Steinbeck in 1958 to his eldest son, Thomas, then a teenager who was attending boarding school. Thomas had fallen in love with a girl named Susan and wrote to his father for advice. Of course, this is a topic that every father knows about, but more so for an award-winning author who has explored its depth in several novels. Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1962 and in his acceptance speech, he touched on the importance of love: “the writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man’s proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit — for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and of emulation. I hold that a writer who does not believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature.” In the letter to his son, included in Steinbeck: A Life in Letters edited by his third wife, Elaine, Steinbeck shares his profound, timeless insights about love:

Dear Thom:

We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.

First — if you are in love — that’s a good thing — that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.

Second — There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you — of kindness and consideration and respect — not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.

You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply — of course it isn’t puppy love.

But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it — and that I can tell you.

Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.

The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.

If you love someone — there is no possible harm in saying so — only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.

It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another — but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.

Love, Fa

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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Essential Worldwide Laws of Life: Learning

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomWhat does it mean to live a good life? Indeed, it is an important question that has been pondered by philosophers, writers, and thinkers for thousands of years. One of those thinkers was Sir John Templeton (1912-2008), an American-born British investor, fund manager and philanthropist. Templeton had an impeccable education: he attended Yale University by paying part of his tuition by playing poker. He went on to study law at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. Templeton was a brilliant stock trader and pioneered the use of globally diversified funds known as the Templeton Mutual Funds. Despite his enormous wealth, he remained humble, insisting on driving his own car and flying coach. Moreover, he was  a very generous philanthropist, having donated more than $1 billion to charities through the John Templeton Foundation.

Templeton was fascinated by the question: what does it mean to live a good life. He studied the major scriptures of the world, as well as the philosophers, historians, artists, writers, and scientists who studied this question. Templeton was looking for a way to connect the dots, and what he discovered were certain commonalities, threads that were woven into the tapestry of wisdom. He called these lessons the “laws of life.” In 1998, he published The Essential Worldwide Laws of Life so that readers of every age could discover the universal truths of life, the life lessons that are present in every society and religion, transcending time. Templeton elaborates: “Following in the footsteps of Benjamin Franklin and others who have tried to pass on their learning to others, this book has been written from a lifetime of experience and diligent observation in the hope that it may help people in all parts of the world to make their lives not only happier but also more useful.”

One of the keys to living a good life is the importance of teaching and learning. Here are some excerpts from the chapter on learning:

There is a difference between acquiring knowledge and information and possessing wisdom. You may acquire knowledge from a university, your travels, your relationships, the books you read, and other activities in which you participate. But are you also gaining wisdom?

Wisdom is born of mistakes; confront error and learn. (J. Jelinek)

Defeat isn’t bitter if you don’t swallow it. (Ten Engstrom)

You can make opposition work for you. (Anonymous)

Everything and everyone around you is your teacher. (Ken Keyes)

We learn more by welcoming criticism than by rendering judgment. (J. Jelinek)

Only one thing is more important than learning from experience, and that is not learning from experience. (John Templeton)

We can become bitter or better as a result of our experiences. (Eric Butterworth)

If you think you know it all, you are less likely to learn more. (John Templeton)

No one’s education is ever complete. (John Templeton)

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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Poems to Inspire During the Coronavirus Pandemic: No Man Is an Island

“In the aftermath of the spectacular collapse of the twin towers on September 11, 2001, the act of turning to poetry enjoyed a revival… In times of crisis, poems, not paintings or ballet, are what people habitually reach for… The formalized language of poetry can ritualize experience and provide emotional focus… Poetry also can assure us that we are not alone; others, some of them long dead, have felt what we are feeling.”

The excerpt above was written by Billy Collins, US Poet Laureate (2001-2003) from the introduction to The Poem I Turn To: Actors and Directors Present Poetry That Inspires Them. Sadly, poetry books tend to stand forlorn on dusty bookshelves, often relegated to the back of whatever bookstores are still in business. In general, most people don’t read or buy poetry; paradoxically people have an insatiable appetite for songs — that are essentially poems set to music — as evidenced by the steady sale of digital music (mp3s) and music streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora. Nevertheless, Collins is correct in stating that during special events in our lives — whether tragic or joyful — we inevitably turn to poetry. One of the greatest students of the human psyche, Sigmund Freund, expressed it this way: “Everywhere I go, I find a poet has been there before me.”

The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 will be a period that will have an indelible imprint on our collective consciousness. It is unlike anything the world has ever experienced — a devastating, crippling worldwide pandemic that triggered a financial meltdown and an economic depression that will rival the Great Depression of the 1930s. In a matter of weeks we lost so much: the loss of 42,016 lives (as of this writing); more than 850,000 are sick; our way of life has been disrupted; businesses will falter or fail; and our trust and faith in government leaders has eroded. However, paradoxically, we have gained something: the pandemic has shattered our complacency of living selfish, isolated lives to discover an eternal truth that has been obscured by the fog of narcissism and the headlong pursuit of money: that all humans are connected to one another. Moreover, we are interdependent — alas, our survival today, and in the coming years, depends on this realization and the obligation to care for one another, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, gender, religion, or political affiliation. During a dark and difficult time like this, I cannot think of a poem that is more relevant and inspirational than John Donne’s short, but eloquent, poem known as “No Man is an Island.” Donne, a cleric of the Church of England, wrote many devotionals and sermons. This poem appear in Meditation 17, that appears in Devotions upon Emergent Occasions published in 1624, during a very difficult time in his life when he was mourning the death of his wife, some of their children, and several friends. In this timeless poem, Donne reflects on mortality and an individual’s relation to humanity: 

No Man is an Island

No man is an island entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
As well as if a promontory were,
As well as any manor of thy friend’s,
Or of thine own were.

Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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For further reading: The Complete Poetry and Selected Prose of John Donne
The Poem I Turn To: Actors & Directors Present Poetry That Inspires Them edited by Jason Shinder
https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/coronavirus-death-toll/


The Wit and Wisdom of the French

alex atkins bookshelf booksLike every people, the French have their own accumulation of wisdom that has been passed on from generation to generation through stories, fables, and proverbs. I recently came across a little book of French Wit and Wisdom published by Peter Pauper Press (try saying that fast three times) in 1956. Peter Pauper Press, founded in 1928, publishes small gift books, including books of quotations and proverbs. Here is some timeless wisdom found in their collection of French sayings, pour voter illumination:

“Passion often makes fools of clever men; sometimes even makes clever men of fools.” (Francois de la Rochefoucauld)

“Man’s joy or sorrow depends as much upon his disposition as upon his fate.” (Francois de la Rochefoucauld)

“We work so consistently to disguise ourselves to others that we end by being disguised to ourselves” (Francois de la Rochefoucauld)

“A narrow mind begets obstinacy; it is hard to be persuaded of something beyond the scope of our understanding.” (Francois de la Rochefoucauld)

“Each age of life is new to us; no matter how old we are we still are troubled by inexperience.” (Jonathan Swift)

“To give birth to a desire, to nourish it, to develop it, to increase it, to irritate it, to satisfy it: this is a whole poem.” (Honore de Balzac)

“There are more fools than sages; and among the sages, there is more folly than wisdom.” (Sebastien Chamfort)

“Pleasure may come of illusion, but happiness can come only of reality.” (Sebastien Chamfort)

“The loss of illusions is the death of the soul.” (Sebastien Chamfort)

“At every stage of life he reaches, man finds himself but a novice.” (Sebastien Chamfort)

“To teach is to learn twice.” (Joseph Joubert)

“A reader finds little in a book save what he puts there. But in a great book he finds space to put many things.” (Sebastien Chamfort)

“Statesmanship is the art of knowing and leading the multitude, or the majority. Its glory is to lead them, not where they want to go, but where they ought to go.” (Sebastien Chamfort)

“Words are like glass — they obscure whatever they do not help us to see.” (Sebastien Chamfort)

“It is with books as with men, a very small number play a great part: the rest are confounded with the multitude.” (Voltaire)

“It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.” (Voltaire)

“Poetry is the music of the soul.” (Voltaire)

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Do you agree or disagree; additional perspectives? I welcome thoughtful discussion via comment section or email. Be a part of the community. Cheers.

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What is the Most Important Lesson in Life? – Robert Frost

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomAt his eightieth birthday celebration, Robert Frost, America’s most famous poet, and winner of four Pulitzer Prizes, was asked: “In all your years and all your travels, what do you think is the most important thing you’ve learned about life?” He paused for just a moment, then replied:

‘’In three words, I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: It goes on. In all the confusions of today, with all our troubles, with politicians and people slinging the word ‘fear’ around, all of us become discouraged, tempted to say this is the end, the finish. But life — it goes on. It always has. It always will. Don’t forget that.

Just a little while back, at my farm near Ripton, Vermont, I planted a few more trees. You wonder why? Well, I’m like the Chinese of ninety who did the same thing. When they asked him why, he said that the world wasn’t a desert when he came into it and wouldn’t be when he departed. Those trees will keep on growing after I’m gone and after you’re gone.

I don’t hold with people who say, ‘Where do we go from here?’ or ‘What’s the use?’ I wouldn’t get up in the morning if I thought we didn’t have a direction to go in. But if you ask me what the direction is, I can’t answer. It’s different for each of us. The important thing to remember is that there is a direction and a continuity even if so often we think we’re lost. 

Despite our fears and worries — and they’re very real to all of us — life continues… it goes on. Three words above all else. In my eighty years, that I’ve learned.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Do you agree or disagree; additional perspectives? I welcome thoughtful discussion via comment section or email. Be a part of the community. Cheers.

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The Wisdom of Yoda
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For further reading: “Robert Frost’s Secret” by Ray Josephs, appearing in This Week magazine, September 1954.


The Wisdom of Cornel West

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomWhat better way to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day than to attend a lecture by Cornel West, discussing democracy, justice, and race. West, like Noam Chomsky, is a public intellectual, philosopher, social critic, and political activist. He graduated from Harvard College magna cum  laude with a degree in Near Eastern languages and civilization. He received his PhD in philosophy from Princeton University. West taught at Harvard, the Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, Yale Divinity School, and the University of Paris. He is the recipient of 20 honorary degrees and has written over 20 books. Race Matters, published in 1994, and Democracy Matters, published in 2004, are two of his most notable and influential works. Filmgoers will recognize the famous philosopher as Councilor West in The Matrix Reloaded (2003) and The Matrix Revolutions (2003) movies. If that isn’t impressive enough, he has also recorded several soul, hip-hop, and spoken word albums.

The excitement in the packed auditorium was palpable. Heads turned as he walked through the center aisle, wearing his trademarked black three piece suit with a gold pocket watch chain dangling from his waist. He marched on the stage and with his deep, booming voice proclaimed, “I am only scheduled for an hour, but I feel moved by the spirit!” What followed was a mesmerizing two-hour presentation that was one part college lecture (evoking the great names of philosophy, history, and literature), one part tribute to jazz and Motown (the man knows his music and lyrics!), and two parts Baptist sermon and gospel revival (with scattered shouts from the audience of “Amen!” “Preach it, Brother!” and an uplifting, foot-stomping sing-along of the timeless gospel song “This Little Light of Mine” that was popularized by the civil rights movement). You couldn’t help but think that this is what is must have been like to attend an event featuring  Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s. The evening ending with a long, thunderous standing ovation that lifted everyone’s spirits.

Bookshelf honors Martin Luther King Jr. Day by sharing the wisdom of Cornel West drawn from his writings and his lecture of that memorable evening.

“Justice is what love looks like in public; tenderness is what love looks like in private.”

“I take my fundamental cue from John Coltrane that says there must be a priority of integrity, honesty, decency, and mastery of craft.”

“I have tried to be a man of letters in love with ideas in order to be a wiser and more loving person, hoping to leave the world just a little better than I found it.”

“I’ve never been tied to one party or one candidate or even one institution. And that’s true even with one church as a Christian. I’m committed to truth and justice.”

“I remind young people everywhere I go, one of the worst things the older generation did was to tell them for twenty-five years ‘Be successful, be successful, be successful!’ as opposed to ‘Be great, be great, be great.’ There’s a qualitative difference.

“King’s response to our crisis can be put in one word: revolution. A revolution in our priorities, a reevaluation of our values, a reinvigoration of our public life and a fundamental transformation of our way of thinking and living that promotes a transfer of power from oligarchs and plutocrats to everyday people and ordinary citizens.“

“There is a sense in which there has to be a poetic mode of expression that moves people — you have to communicate in the form of stories and narratives that carry with them certain kinds of values and virtues. When the values and virtues are cached in light of Christian stories of love and justice but connected to a whole host of non-Christian persons, so that you’re speaking to human beings and fellow citizens, you make an intervention as a Christian. But the stories and narratives that you put forward in a poetic form still are able to seize the hearts, minds, and souls of fellow citizens of all different traditions and viewpoints. That is precisely what Martin Luther King Jr. was able to do, and there was a real sense in which his example is something that we need to learn from in the early part of the twenty-first century as the American empire wafers and wobbles.”

“The country is in deep trouble. We’ve forgotten that a rich life consists fundamentally of serving others, trying to leave the world a little better than you found it. We need the courage to question the powers that be, the courage to be impatient with evil and patient with people, the courage to fight for social justice. In many instances we will be stepping out on nothing, and just hoping to land on something. But that’s the struggle. To live is to wrestle with despair, yet never allow despair to have the last word.”

“If you view life as a gold rush, you’re going to end up worshiping a golden calf. And when you call for help, and that golden calf can’t respond, you go under.”

“You can’t lead the people if you don’t love the people. You can’t save the people if you don’t serve the people.”

“Music at its best…is the grand archeology into and transfiguration of our guttural cry, the great human effort to grasp in time our deepest passions and yearnings as prisoners of time. Profound music leads us — beyond language — to the dark roots of our scream and the celestial
heights of our silence.”

“To accept your country without betraying it, you must love it for that which shows what it might become. America — this monument to the genius of ordinary men and women, this place where hope becomes capacity, this long, halting turn of ‘no’ into the ‘yes’ — needs citizens who love it enough to re-imagine and re-make it.”

“In these downbeat times, we need as much hope and courage as we do vision and analysis; we must accent the best of each other even as we point out the vicious effects of our racial divide and pernicious consequences of our maldistribution of wealth and power. We simply cannot enter the twenty-first century at each other’s throats, even as we acknowledge the weighty forces of racism, patriarchy, economic inequality, homophobia, and ecological abuse on our necks. We are at a crucial crossroad in the history of this nation–and we either hang together by combating these forces that divide and degrade us or we hang separately. Do we have the intelligence, humor, imagination, courage, tolerance, love, respect, and will to meet the challenge? Time will tell. None of us alone can save the nation or world. But each of us can make a positive difference if we commit ourselves to do so.”

“It is a beautiful thing to be on fire for justice… there is no greater joy than inspiring and empowering others –– especially the least of these, the precious and priceless wretched of the earth!”

“[My religious grounding] has everything to do with taking the Christian gospel seriously by trying to take love seriously, connecting love to justice, and recognizing what Martin Luther King Jr. rightly said, that justice is what love looks like in public. Therefore, looking at the world through the lens of the cross means putting a premium on the least of these; to echo the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew, it means looking at the prisoners, the widow, the orphan, the workers, gay brothers, lesbian sisters, people of color, indigenous peoples, and so forth. Whatever kind of theology you want to call it, I’m just trying to be truthful to the gospel. If we take the cross seriously—which has so much to do with unarmed truth, and the condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak, and the cross has so much to do with unconditional love—then we can’t love people simply by hating when they are treated unjustly. If we take the cross seriously, we must consider how we understand the world, think about the world, and act in the world. Then, certainly in that regard, my attempt to live the Christian life is at the center of what I think and do.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: The Cornel West Reader by Cornel West
https://theotherjournal.com/2009/08/21/politics-virtues-and-struggle-an-interview-with-cornel-west/


Life Lessons from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

atkins-bookshelf-xmasStudents of literature, indeed anyone who loves books and stories, can agree on one universal truth — that, in the words of C. S. Lewis “we read to know that we are not alone.” Novelist and essayist James Baldwin adds: “You read something which you thought only happened to you, and you discover that it happened 100 years ago to Dostoevsky. This is a very great liberation for the suffering, struggling person, who always thinks that he is alone.”

Another universal truth is that we read to learn, to heal, and to transform ourselves. As George Dawson, an English literature lecturer and founder of the Shakespeare Memorial Library in Birmingham, observed: “The great consulting room of a wise man is a library… the solemn chamber in which man can take counsel with all that have been wise and great and good and glorious amongst the men that have gone before him.”

On this Christmas day, we turn our attention to a ghostly little story that has much to teach: Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol — a story of about redemption, forgiveness, and generosity. But Dickens did not write A Christmas Carol simply to amuse us; he wrote it to inspire self-reflection and change — to help us become better human beings. “Beyond entertaining us,” writes Bob Welch in 52 Little Life Lessons From A Christmas Carol, “Dickens wanted to make us uncomfortable, because it’s only after we get a touch uneasy with ourselves that we open ourselves to change… to create a spark that might lead to flames of action: changing how we look at the world, changing how we act in the world, and ultimately changing how we will be remembered in the world.” Indeed, if we are able to transform ourselves, in light of the lessons from Dickens’s classic story, this is the Christmas miracle.

Bookshelf presents some important life lessons from A Christmas Carol gleaned from Welch’s enlightening little book:

Don’t be selfish
Don’t let people steal your joy
See life as a child
Everyone has value
Life isn’t just about business
You make the chains that shackle you
Humility enhances vision
To heal you must feel
Your actions affect others
The love of money costs you in the end
Life is best lived when you are awake
Learning begins with listening
Attitude is everything

The past can be empowering
Don’t return evil for evil
Bitterness will poison you
Dying lonely is the result of living lonely
Pain is the privilege of losing someone you care deeply about
Amid tragedy, others still need you
Before honor comes humility
Give because you have been given to
Giving changes your perspective
Live with the end in mind
It is never too late to change
Be the change you want to see

And as Tiny Tim observed, “God bless us, everyone!”

SHARE THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Introduce them to the world of ideas. Best of all, a subscription by email is free. Happy Holidays.

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For further reading: 52 Little Lessons From A Christmas Carol by Bob Welch (2015)


Little Books, Big Ideas: Words of Wisdom

alex atkins bookshelf booksIf you visit a used bookstore, you might stumble upon an often neglected section: miniature books. A miniature book generally measures 3 by 4 inches. Some of the smaller ones are 1.5 inches by 2 inches. Unfortunately, miniature books are often dismissed due to their small size. “If they are so small, how can they possibly matter?” you think to yourself. Astute book lovers, however, know that even little books can contain big ideas — profound thoughts that can change your life.

In my periodic visits to used bookstores, I recently came across such a thought-provoking miniature book: Words of Wisdom: A Book of Inspiration compiled by Armand Eisen for Andrews McMeel Publishing, a publisher of novelty books, comics, and calendars. In the introduction, Eisen writes: “Wisdom means something different to each of us, yet there is a golden thread that unites the words of great thinkers and writers — a common instinct for truth. Collected here is a sampling of the sages — reflections and advice on life’s joys, beauties, lessons, and eternal truths.” Here are some pearls of wisdom:

“The purpose of life is a life of purpose.” (Robert Byrne)

“The man who has lived longest is not the he who has spent the greatest number of years, but he who has had the greatest sensibility of life.” (Jean-Jacques Rousseau)

“If there is any peace it will come through living, not knowing.” (Henry Miller)

“Stupidity consists in wanting to reach conclusions. We are a thread and we want to know the whole cloth.” (Gustave Flaubert)

“A man should never be ashamed to own that he has been in the wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.” (Jonathan Swift)

“The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” (William James)

“Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, / Which we ascribe to Heaven.” (William Shakespeare, from All’s Well That Ends Well)

“Almost every man wastes part of his life in attempts to display qualities which he does not possess, and to gain applause which he cannot keep.” (Samuel Johnson)

“Live not as though there were a thousand years ahead of you. Fate is at your elbow; make yourself good while life and power are still yours.” (Marcus Aurelius)

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Little Books, Big Ideas: On Things That Really Matter

alex atkins bookshelf booksIf you visit a used bookstore, you might stumble upon an often neglected section: miniature books. A miniature book generally measures 3 by 4 inches. Some of the smaller ones are 1.5 inches by 2 inches. Unfortunately, miniature books are often dismissed due to their small size. “If they are so small, how can they possibly matter?” you think to yourself. Astute book lovers, however, know that even little books can contain big ideas — profound thoughts that can change your life.

In my periodic visits to used bookstores, I recently came across such a thought-provoking miniature book: On Things That Really Matter written by Jackson Brown, Jr. who wrote the New York Times bestseller Life’s Little Instruction Book: Simple Wisdom and a Little Humor for Living a Happy and Rewarding Life (1992). One of Brown’s central beliefs is that “when you take inventory of the things in life that you treasure most, you’ll find that none of them was purchased with money.” “Hey — isn’t there a song about that? you ask?” Yes, it is “The Best Things in Life are Free,” by Buddy DeSylva, Lew Brown, and Ray Henderson from the musical 1927 Good News. The song was popularized by Sam Cooke, Frank Sinatra, and Bing Crosby for an earlier generation. But we digress.

Let’s turn back to Brown’s more recent miniature book. “There is a fundamental question we all have to face,” writes Brown, “How are we to live our lives; by what principle and moral values will we be guided and inspired? I once heard a minister compare life to a slippery staircase—an apt analogy. Slipping and sliding as we all do, we intuitively reach out for support, for anything to keep us from falling. There is a handrail. But its stability is determined by the values we have chosen to guide our lives. It is, therefore, no stronger, no more reliable, than the quality of the choices we have made.” Spot on, brother.

Brown’s little book is filled with big ideas — ones that will fortify the handrails of your life. Here are some of those ideas from notable thinkers and writers, as well as individuals who did not achieve fame but lived full, meaningful, and fulfilling lives and have wisdom to share:

“Treasure the love you receive above all. It will survive long after gold and good health have vanished.” (Og Mandino)

“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an art but a habit.” (Aristotle)

“A thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as one deed.” (Henrik Ibsen)

“Do not care overly much for wealth or power or fame, or one day you will meet someone who cares for none of these things, and you will realize how poor you have become.” (Rudyard Kipling)

“I ve learned that the best way to have friends is to be the kind of friend you’d like to have.” (Anonymous)

“I’ve learned that every person you meet knows something you don’t know. Learn from them.” (Anonymous)

“Never underestimate the influence of the people you have allowed into your life.” (Anonymous)

“I’ve learned that a happy person is not a person with a certain set of circumstances but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes.” (Anonymous)

“I’ve learned that pain is inevitable; misery is optional.” (Anonymous)

“I’ve learned that I don’t need more to be thankful for; I need to be thankful more.” (Anonymous)

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What Advice Does Polonius Give His Son?

alex atkins bookshelf literatureAny parent who has a child going to college faces that moment when they must let his or her child leave the proverbial nest on a journey of discovery, to seek out those transformative experiences that will shape the edifice of young adulthood to be built on the foundation of familial values, traditions, and years of parental guidance. As your child hugs you and says goodbye, what final parental advice should you impart? If you are Polonius, the chief counselor to King Claudius (father of Prince Hamlet), you want to dispense some life lessons covering a wide variety of topics before your son, Laertes (brother to Ophelia), leaves to attend university in France. This is one of the most famous speeches in Hamlet — and certainly, its eloquence is matched by its verbosity.

Modern readers who read or listen to Polonius’ famous fatherly advice with its verbal flourishes and rather peculiar Elizabethan diction typically have one response: WTF? What is that Polo dude really saying? Can someone please translate this into modern English? Sure. But before we proceed, we should mention that in the context of the play, Polonius is considered to be a bit of a pretentious buffoon, much like a modern congressman or presidential spokesperson. Although Polonius is a sincere father, we have to question his intentions because the sum of his advice is rather ironic: as his son prepares to leave for college (ostensibly to take chances and explore the world, discover his true self, etc.), he tells him essentially to play it safe. Say what? You also have to question the timing: realize that Laertes is now in his late teens or early 20s, and it might be late for some of this advice. For this reason, some literary critics believe that Polonius is a bit of a hypocrite: he hasn’t been around for his son, and now as his son is leaving for college, Polonius decides to cram 18 years of fatherly wisdom into one speech. Thanks for nothin, Pops! Nevertheless, when the advice is taken individually, one has to admit that it is quite sound. So let’s break it down into bite-sized chunks and see if you agree.

Yet here, Laertes! aboard, aboard, for shame!
The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
And you are stay’d for. There; my blessing with thee!
And these few precepts in thy memory

Meaning: Laertes, my boy, you’re still here? Get going! Your ship awaits. I give you my blessings (again). But, before you leave, I do have a few life lessons to share with you. You might want to record this on your iPhone so you don’t forget my longwinded speech. Besides, realize that you cannot count on Siri to dispense meaningful life lessons!

See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.

Meaning: Don’t just say what you are thinking (think before you speak!) and don’t act in haste (don’t be impulsive!). Be friendly to people but don’t go overboard and embarrass yourself.

Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch’d, unfledged comrade. 

Meaning: Know who are your true friends (news flash: they are not your Facebook friends or Twitter followers!). Really appreciate those friends and hang on to them. Don’t work too hard to make new friends — they will never be as good as the ones you already have.

Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.

Meaning: Don’t be too quick to pick a fight, but if you do — hold your own. (And if you are going to be in a sword fight, make sure you are holding the sword with the poisoned-dipped tip!) Next, learn to be a good listener. Listen to people, but be circumspect. Listen to the views or opinions of others, but don’t necessarily share your own. It’s OK for someone to disapprove of you, but try not to judge others.

Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that.

Meaning: Be a good consumer: spend as much as you can on nice clothes. Don’t waste your money on tacky clothes from strip mall outlets. Shop the good sales at A&F, Gap, etc. And since you are going to France, where fashion is king, remember that “clothes make the man.”

Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

Meaning: Don’t be stupid and lose a friendship by borrowing from or lending money to a friend. Trust me, you’ll lose both! Besides, borrowing money just makes you careless with money. Live within your means — or I am cancelling your credit cards!

This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!

Meaning: And the most important lesson, of course, is to be true to yourself. (Of course, this last advice sort of contradicts all the very specific advice that he just dished out). That way you will not come off as a phoney (and you know how much Salinger’s Holden Caulfield hates those kind of people!) Goodbye, my boy, I hope my blessing helps you understand the life lessons I have shared with you. If not, you’ll end up in crazy town, like your sister.

So now that we have translated or paraphrased Polonius’ advice to Laertes into modern English, let us now ponder the inescapable question: is this the best advice that a father could give his son? What — or more precisely, what other — life lessons should Polonius have imparted to his college-bound son?

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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It is the Man Who Craves More that is Poor

alex atkins bookshelf wisdom“The thought for today is one which I discovered in Epicurus; for I am wont to cross over even into the enemy’s camp, not as a deserter, but as a scout. He says: ‘Contented poverty is an honorable estate.’ Indeed, if it be contented, it is not poverty at all. It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor. What does it matter how much a man has laid up in his safe, or in his warehouse, how large are his flocks and how fat his dividends, if he covets his neighbour’s property, and reckons, not his past gains, but his hopes of gains to come? Do you ask what is the proper limit to wealth? It is, first, to have what is necessary, and, second, to have what is enough.”

From Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium (Moral Letters to Lucilius) by Lucius Annaeus Seneca, known as Seneca the Younger (4 BC – 65 AD), Roman philosopher, dramatist, statesman, and tutor to the future emperor Nero. The Moral Letters to Lucilius (also referred to as Moral Epistles or Letters from a Stoic) are a collection of 124 fascinating, thought-provoking letters that were written by Seneca during his retirement, after being an adviser to Emperor Nero. The letters, addressed to the procurator of Sicily, Lucilius, but were intended for a wider audience, provide guidance on morality and emphasize the themes of Stoicism. Although Stoicism was founded by Zeno of Citium in 3 BC, it was popularized by the works and teachings of Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius. Some of the main teachings of Stoicism are that life is brief and happiness is found in the moment, virtue (like wisdom) is the only good, judgment should be based on behavior rather than words, and discontent is due to one’s impulsive dependency on reflexive senses rather than logic, and not being in accord with nature brings dissatisfaction.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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The Wisdom of the 12 Men Who Walked on the Moon

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomIt is perhaps the most elite club on the planet Earth — out of the 7.5 billion people that populate this planet, only a fortunate few — 12 courageous men — have travelled the more than 240,000 miles to land and walk on the Moon. Of those 12 astronauts, as of July 20, 2019 (the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing), only four are still alive: Buzz Aldrin (89 years old), David Scott (87), Charles Duke (83), and Harrison Schmitt (84). If there ever was a moment that united the entire planet, it was that fateful day that Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon at 2:46 UTC. NASA estimated that 500 people around the globe watched this event, transfixed to their television sets. It is one of those magical, memorable moments. Ask anyone from that generation: “Where were you when man landed on the Moon,” and that individual will travel back in time and happily recollect details from that glorious day.

Despite their different upbringing, training, and character, what united these 12 men, apart from this incredibly ambitious, complex, and risky mission, was the opportunity to see the planet Earth like no other human being — a truly global, or more accurately — universal perspective. As you read through their quotations, one thing becomes crystal clear: the experience of standing on the gray, barren lunar terrain allowed them to see the Earth in an entirely new way — to behold its stunning beauty, but realize its fragility. Each of them was profoundly impacted by this powerful, yet humbling, experience and they carried this unique perspective, this worldly insight, for the rest of their lives. One would wish that every world leader, military leader, and politician would have a similar experience and revelation — for the sake of their country, and the world at large. Astrophysicist Carl Sagan summarized it best in a beautiful, eloquent speech delivered at Cornell University in 1994: “Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

Neil Alden Armstrong (Apollo 11, Commander)
“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin (Apollo 11, Lunar Module Pilot)
“I don’t know why people who have not been on rockets continue to ask, ‘you’re not scared?’ no we were not scared… until something happens, then it’s time to get scared.”

Charles “Pete” Conrad Jr. (Apollo 12, Commander)
“I made the remark when we went over the top, ‘eureka, Houston, the Earth is really round,’ and when i got back to Houston, I got all this mail from members of the Flat Earth Society telling me I didn’t know what I was talking about.”

Alan LaVerne Bean (Apollo 12, Lunar Module Pilot)
“Since that time, I have not complained about the weather one single time. I’m glad there is weather. iIve not complained about traffic, I’m glad there’s people around… boy we’re lucky to be here. Why do people complain about the Earth? We are living in the Garden of Eden.”

Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr. (Apollo 14, Commander)
“I realized up there that our planet is not infinite. It’s fragile. That may not be obvious to a lot of folks, and it’s tough that people are fighting each other here on Earth instead of trying to get together and live on this planet. We look pretty vulnerable in the darkness of space.

Edgar Dean “Ed” Mitchell (Apollo 14, Lunar Module Pilot)
“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the Moon, international politics look so petty. you want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘look at that, you son of a bitch.’”

David Randolph Scott (Apollo 15, Commander)
“It truly is an oasis and we don’t take very good care of it. And I think the elevation of that awareness is a real contribution to, you know, saving the Earth if you will.”

James Benson “Jim” Irwin (Apollo 15, Lunar Module Pilot)
“The Earth reminded us of a christmas tree ornament hanging in the blackness of space. As we got farther and farther away it diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man, has to make a man appreciate the creation of God and the love of God.”

John Watts Young (Apollo 16, Commander)
“NASA is not about the ‘adventure of human space exploration,’ we are in the deadly serious business of saving the species. All human exploration’s bottom line is about preserving our species over the long haul.”

Charles Moss “Charlie” Duke Jr. (Apollo 16, Lunar Module Pilot)
Tthat jewel of Earth was just hung up in the blackness of space. The only people that have seen the whole circle of the Earth are the 24 guys that went to the Moon.”

Eugene Andrew Cernan (Apollo 17, Commander
“The night before I flew, I wrote a letter to Tracy, just in case: to my darling daughter Tracy — Trace, you’re almost too young to understand what it means to have your daddy to go to the moon… I want you to look at the Moon because when you are reading this, daddy is almost there.”

Harrison Hagan “Jack” Schmitt (Apollo 17, Lunar Module Pilot)
“Working on the Moon is a lot of fun. It’s like walking around on a giant trampoline all the time and you’re just as strong as you were here on Earth but you don’t weigh as much. You only weigh one-sixth of what you weigh on the Moon. even with the suit and the backpack, my total weight was only 61 pounds.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: https://pilgrimage.space/12-people-walked-moon/


The Wisdom of Russian Proverbs

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomLike every people, the Russians have their own accumulation of wisdom that has been passed on from generation to generation through stories, fables, and proverbs. I recently came across a little book of Russian Proverbs published by Peter Pauper Press (try saying that fast three times) in 1960. Peter Pauper Press, founded in 1928, publishes small gift books, including books of quotations and proverbs. Here is some timeless wisdom found in their collection of Russian proverbs:

Where the needle goes, the thread follows.

Counting other people’s money will never make you rich.

Slander, like coal, will either dirty your hand or burn it.

Wash a pig as much as you like, it will return to the mud.

Learn good things — the bad will teach you by themselves.

Better bread and water, than cake and trouble.

No apple is safe from worms.

If you don’t know how to be a good servant, you won’t know how to be a good master.

A guest should not have to honor his host; a host should honor his guest.

The fool makes ropes out of sand.

Once a word is out of your mouth you can’t swallow it again.

Walk fast and you can overtake misfortune; walk slowly and it will overtake you.

You can measure your cloth twelve times, but cut it only once.

Afraid or not, you will have to face your fate.

Don’t take your own rules when you enter a strange monastery.

Even if Truth is buried in a gold box, it will break out and come to light.

A good reputation sits at home, a bad one runs about town.

In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

Presents are cheap, true love is dear.

He who rushes at life dies young.

Love your neighbors but put up a fence.

A kind word now is better than a pie later.

If you never see new things, you can go on enjoying the old.

Which is your favorite?

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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A Funeral Poem for a Friend

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomThis post is in honor of a dear friend, a former police officer and detective, who lost his 15-month battle to brain cancer this past evening. He endured several critical operations, agonizing pain, and physical impairment in order to spend as much time as he could with his adoring wife and five children. “It’s too early for me to go,” he said to me soon after the dreadful diagnosis. Through it all, he faced it with tremendous strength and courage, knowing that he was never alone — his close-knit family was with him each step of the way. Additionally, he had the support of his friends, law enforcement community, and church community. And he had his faith that guided him through the best of days and the worst of days. He was a kind, generous soul, possessing a contagious sense of humor, and found ample opportunities to make anyone who was around him laugh, even as he struggled with a terminal illness.

I will never forget our last visit a few weeks ago. He was heavily medicated from a recent surgery. We enjoyed a short visit, sharing many happy memories. Because he couldn’t talk, he mostly listened and nodded, opening his eyes from time to time. Before I left, I told him that I loved him and he became alert for the first time — his tired eyes looked up to meet my gaze. He nodded and managed a faint smile. Since he was too weak to speak, he slowly lifted his hand in the air as if to catch the words that were floating in the air, and then he made a slight swiping motion with his index finger, as if to flick the words back to me. It was the last time I would see him alive.

I am reminded of the poem “Miss Me, But Let Me Go” that is often mistakenly attributed to British poet Christina Rossetti. (Rossetti wrote a poem, titled “Remember,” with a slightly different message.) Although the author of “Miss Me, But Let Me Go” is not known, the poet captures so beautifully and so succinctly one of the great lessons of life — losing a friend. The poem reminds us to rejoice that some divine serendipity brings two people together so that they can travel some portion of the long road of life together. The poem also reminds us to rejoice in the memories that were created during that time. Of course, it is difficult to see that clearly through the fog of mourning and tears. Indeed, of all of life’s lessons, letting someone we love go is perhaps one of the most difficult and painful to learn.

Miss Me, But Let Me Go

When I come to the end of the road
And the sun has set for me
I want no rites in a gloom filled room
Why cry for a soul set free?
Miss me a little, but not for long
And not with your head bowed low
Remember the love that once we shared
Miss me, but let me go.
For this is a journey we all must take
And each must go alone.
It’s all part of the master plan
A step on the road to home. When you are lonely and sick at heart
Go to the friends we know.
Laugh at all the things we used to do
Miss me, but let me go.By Unknown Author

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The Wisdom of Anthony de Mello: Enlightenment

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomAnthony de Mello (1931-1987) was an Indian Jesuit priest, spiritual teacher, psychotherapist, writer, and public speaker. He founded the Sadhana Institute of Pastoral Counseling in Poona, India in 1972. Fr. de Mello earned international acclaim for his profound spiritual insights, via the mystical traditions of East and West, and his unique approach to the inner life. He was best known for his mesmerizing storytelling — using insightful stories, parables, and humor — as well spiritual exercises to lead people to greater awareness (self-discovery), helping them to be more in touch with their body, sensations, and living life more fully. Fr. de Mello believed that humanity could learn from every religious tradition. In his stories, when he speak of the Master, he is not just referring to Jesus, following the Catholic/Christian tradition; de Mello writes “He is a Hindu Guru, a Zen Roshi, A Taoist Sage, a Jewish Rabbi, a Christian Monk, a Sufi Mystic. He is a Lao-Tau and Socrates. Buddha and Jesus, Zarathustra and Mohammed. His teaching  is found in the seventh century B.C. and the twentieth century A.D. His wisdom belongs to East and West alike.” Remarkably, the Catholic Church did not appreciate this synthesis of East and West, especially the consideration of Jesus as a master alongside many others (particularly the Buddha, which de Mello respected a great deal), the promotion of other spiritual works other than the Bible, and the belief that you didn’t need religion to achieve self-discovery and enlightenment. (Interestingly, there are significant similarities between the beliefs of Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, mystic, theologian, scholar of comparative religion, and author of The Seven Story Mountain, and de Mello.) Consequently — and rather ironically considering that Jesus taught in parables and also broke with the traditions and thinking of his time — the Catholic Church condemned his writings. Unfortunately, this had an unintended consequence: it increased the sale and publications of his work (20+) — many which were published posthumously. Here is an excerpt from One Minute Wisdom, published in 1985), titled “Enlightenment.”

The Master was an advocate both of learning and of Wisdom.

“Learning,” he said when asked, “is gotten by reading books or listening to lectures.”

“And Wisdom?”

“By reading the book that is you.”

He added as an afterthought: “It is not an easy task at all, for every minute of the day brings a new edition of the book!”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: One Minute Wisdom by Anthony de Mello
Taking Flight by Anthony de Mello
The Heart of the Enlightened by Anthony de Mello
http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/cdfdemel.htm
http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/galileo-is-convicted-of-heresy


The Wisdom of Anime Characters

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomWhere can wisdom can be found? Certainly one can turn to the Bible and literature in general to find timeless wisdom. However, these great books do not have a monopoly on wisdom. If you look carefully enough, you can find wisdom in some of the most unlikely places — like anime (Japanese animated films). Yes — some anime characters can actually shed some light on life and the human condition. The anime-obsessed folks at Daily Infographic reviewed all the classics searching for that wisdom that is deserving of a wider audience. Here are some of the anime characters and the life advice they share:

Iron (Avatar the Last Airbender): “It is important to draw wisdom from different places. If you take it from only one place, it becomes rigid and stale.”

Makoto Konno (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time): “You don’t get to choose when or who you meet. However, you do get to choose who you hold onto.”

Jiraiya (Naruto): “Knowing what it feels to be in pain is exactly why we try to be kind to others.”

Mewtwo (Pokemon: the First Movie): “I see now that the circumstances of one’s birth are irrelevant. It is what you do with the gift of life that determines who you are.”

Ging Freecss (Hunter X Hunter): “You should enjoy the little detours to the fullest, because that’s where you will find things more important than what you want.”

Simon (Gurren Lagaan): “We evolve beyond the person that we were a minute before. Little by little, we advance with each turn.”

Vash the Stampeded (Trigun): “It is a virtue to devote one’s self to something, firmly believing in one’s own ideals. But that does not mean it’s alright to belittle the ideals or feelings of others.”

Edward Elric (Fullmetal Alchemist): “A lesson without pain is meaningless, for you cannot gain something without sacrificing something else in return. But once you have recovered it and made it your own… you will gain an irreplaceable Fullmetal heart.”

The Baron (The Cat Returns): “Whenever someone creates something with all of their heart, then that creation is given a soul.”

Ymir (Attack on Titan): “Do you always want to live hiding behind the mask you put up for the sake of others? You’re you — and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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The Wisdom of Yoda
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For further reading: https://www.dailyinfographic.com/38-anime-characters-that-give-surprisingly-great-life-advice?utm_source=feedburner&utm


Einstein’s Touching Letter to a Grieving Father

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomIn early February 1950, Dr. Robert Marcus of New York City was absolutely devastated by the loss of his eleven-year-old son who had succumbed to polio. Interestingly, Marcus, who was a Rabbi, did not reach out to his rabbinic mentors and friends, but rather to Albert Einstein, a legendary man of science, who was also a father of two sons. As you read Marcus’ eloquent and emotional letter, you cannot help but feel the profound depth of his anguish. And if you are a parent, you will find yourself fighting back tears — there is no greater grief than that of a parent who loses a young child. Marcus asks the famous physicist if perhaps immortality may be found in the scientific principle of energy conservation:

Dear Dr. Einstein,

Last summer my eleven-year-old son died of Polio. He was an unusual child, a lad of great promise who verily thirsted after knowledge so that he could prepare himself for a useful life in the community. His death has shattered the very structure of my existence, my very life has become an almost meaningless void — for all my dreams and aspirations were somehow associated with his future and his strivings. I have tried during the past months to find comfort for my anguished spirit, a measure of solace to help me bear the agony of losing one dearer than life itself — an innocent, dutiful, and gifted child who was the victim of such a cruel fate. I have sought comfort in the belief that man has a spirit which attains immortality — that somehow, somewhere my son lives on in a higher world…

What would be the purpose of the spirit if with the body it should perish… I have said to myself: “It is a law of science that matter can never be destroyed; things are changed but the essence does not cease to be… Shall we say that matter lives and the spirit perishes; shall the lower outlast the higher?

I have said to myself: “Shall we believe that they have gone out of life in childhood before the natural measure of their days was full have been forever hurled into the darkness of oblivion? Shall we believe that the millions who have died the death of martyrs for truth, enduring the pangs of persecution have utterly perished? Without immortality the world is a moral chaos…

I write you all this because I have just read your volume The World as I See It. On page 5 of that book you stated: “Any individual who should survive his physical death is beyond my comprehension… such notions are for the fears or absurd egoism of feeble souls.” And I inquire in a spirit of desperation, is there in your view no comfort, no consolation for what has happened? Am I to believe that my beautiful darling child… has been forever wedded into dust, that there was nothing within him which has defied the grave and transcended the power of death? Is there nothing to assuage the pain of an unquenchable longing, an intense craving, an unceasing love for my darling son?

May I have a word from you? I need help badly.

Sincerely yours, Robert S. Marcus

A few days later, on February 12, Einstein responded to Dr. Marcus, a complete stranger, with a brief (consisting of only 78 words), but thought-provoking letter of comfort:

Dear Dr. Marcus:

A human being is part of the whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. Not to nourish the delusion but to try to overcome it is the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind.

With my best wishes, sincerely yours, Albert Einstein

Einstein relates to this heart-broken father that only religion, not science, can provide the promise, the gift of immortality. What science can provide, which may provide some level of comfort to this father’s heartache, is the concept of “oneness of the universe” — the idea that everything in the universe is one — we and everything in the universe is made of stardust. In her fascinating book, Einstein and the Rabbi: Searching for the Soul, Naomi Levy reflects on Einstein’s response: “Einstein offered Rabbi Marcus and all of us a vision of heaven on earth. Did Einstein’s words bring some measure of comfort to Rabbi Marcus’s broken heart? I’d like to believe that Rabbi Marcus did receive solace from Einstein’s words, but we’ll never know for sure… When you seek out a man like Einstein for inquiries about the soul, you are bound to get an answer that is out of the ordinary.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Abraham Lincoln’s Letter to Mrs. Bixby
The Memory of a Departed Friend

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Best Books on Eulogies
High Flight: Touching the Face of God
In Mourning the Heart Does Not Forget

For further reading: Einstein and the Rabbi: Searching for the Soul by Naomi Levy
Dear Professor Einstein: Albert Einstein’s Letters to and from Children by Alice Calaprice


The Black Hole and the Pale Blue Dot: the Humbling of Humanity

alex atkins bookshelf cultureOn April 10, 2019, the world was mesmerized by the spectacular first-ever photo of a black hole, providing the first visual evidence that black holes actually exist. The black hole is located at the center of the galaxy named Messier 87 (M87), about 55 million light-years from Earth. The black hole has a mass equal to 6.5 billion times that of the sun. The photo was the result of a ten-year collaboration of more than 200 researchers using a global network of eight radio telescopes, known as the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration (EHT), to combine all their observations and data (5,000 trillion bytes over two weeks) in a supercomputer to create the virtual image. Shepard Doeleman, director of the EHT, proudly proclaimed: “We have seen what we thought was unseeable.” This is truly a remarkable, monumental photo. But there is another stunning photo that we should not forget…

Five years ago, Avery Broderick, a theoretical astrophysicist and a fellow member of the EHT, remarked that the first picture of a black hole could be just as important as a photo known as the “Pale Blue Dot.” That photo, taken almost 30 years ago has slipped from the public’s collective memory. But it shouldn’t — because that photo is a truly remarkable technical and astronomical achievement. Let’s take a trip back into time, going back 42 years ago…

Way back on September 5, 1977, the Voyager 1 spacecraft was launched by NASA aboard a Titan IIIE rocket. The space probe was designed to study the outer solar system, flying by Jupiter, Saturn, and then flying through the heliosphere, and eventually into interstellar space. At a speed of about 38,027 mph, the intrepid Voyager 1 covered a distance of about 325 million miles per year. And remarkably — 37 years later — the spacecraft is still sending data to NASA (messages from more than 12 trillion miles away take about 17 hours to reach Earth). Back in 1990, astronomer Carl Sagan, who was a member of the Voyager’s imaging team, persuaded NASA to send commands to turn the spacecraft’s camera around to take one last photo of the Earth from the edge of the solar system (at a distance of about 3.7 billion miles away). The final image shows the Earth as a mere speck (less than 1 pixel) suspended in a brownish band of light, surrounded by the blackness of space.

The spectacular photo inspired Sagan to reflect eloquently on the significance of life on this tiny planet, a pale blue dot, dwarfed by the mind-boggling vastness of the cosmos: “From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

These two photos — the first-ever black hole of M87 and the Pale Blue Dot — could not be more different, occurring at such amazingly different chapters in the history of the world, but they are a singular and profound reminder of just how insignificant our existence is in the context of an infinite, ever-expanding cosmos. And as we ponder these photos, signifying our place in the universe, one cannot escape the overwhelming sense of humility that they elicit.

Read related posts: How Fast is the Earth Moving?
What is the Oldest Object in the World?
What is the World’s Biggest Problem?

For further reading: Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space by Carl Sagan, Ballantine Books (1997)
Cosmos by Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, and Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ballantine Books (2013)
Universe by Robert Dinwiddle, Philip Eales, David Hughes, and Iain Nicolson, DK (2012)
http://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/04/magazine/how-do-you-take-a-picture-of-a-black-hole-with-a-telescope-as-big-as-the-earth.html
http://www.cnn.com/2019/04/10/world/black-hole-photo-scn/index.html

 


The Most Important Thing in Life is the Journey

alex atkins bookshelf wisdom“If you look back on your life when you were a child, and you had aspirations, and you had ambitions, but they never really worked out the way you thought they would. So there’s a lot that can make you extremely frustrated and extremely mad. But at the same time, it’s kind of exhilirating. In many ways, it doesn’t matter if things work out exactly the way you wanted them to or they didn’t. The most important thing is the journey. Because the experiences can be so rich and so valuable to you… Of course, I am [happy with the journey so far]. It’s been amazing so far. The best way I could think of, you know, leaving this world, and it would be either, you know, go to sleep and not wake up or be in the middle of… a telecine suite doing a new transfer, like a 4k or an 8k tranfer of [2001: A Space Odyssey]. Just as the music play out, I’d say, ‘I’m coming. — I’m with ya, Zarathustra.'”

Leon Vitali from the documentary about his life: Filmworker by Tony Zierra. Vitali was a successful British actor who in 1974 walked away from acting, and spent a lot of time away from his family, to become legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick’s apprentice and right-hand man for more than 25 years. Vitali, credited as “personal assistant to director,” worked alongside “the maestro” on cinematic masterpieces like The Shining (1980), Full Metal Jacket (1987), and Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Since Kubrick’s death in 1999, Vitali has overseen the restoration of all of Kubrick’s films. Currently, Vitali has been working as a consultant to the Kubrick estate. Recently, he has been supervising a new digital 4k version of 2001: A Space Odysssey. He is also working on creating a comprehensive archive of all of Stanley Kubrick’s film elements.

Steve Southgate, the vice president in charge of European technical operations for Warner Brothers who had worked on most of Kubrick’s films watched the apprentice transform into a master: “Leon was a spirit. You could see, you know, the doors open before he got to a door. He has this aura of ‘Kubrickism’ around him. The apprentice that all of a sudden one day became the master with all the answers.” Southgate had enormous respect for Kubrick: “He was one person in the film industry who knew how the film industry worked — in every country in the world. He knew all of the dubbing people, the dubbing directors, the actors, he had relationships with foreign directors who would supervise his work because he couldn’t be there to supervise himself. We had to go around to every cinema to make sure the projection lights were right, the sound was correct, the ratios were right, the screens were clean… He seemed to work 24 hours a day. We used to get calls all hours of the night. He could be very difficult but not in a difficult way. If you ever got chewed out by Stanley on the phone you knew you’d been chewed out. He never screamed or yelled but he had this wonderful manner and a sort of lovely New York drawl to his voice that you knew you were being carpeted. If he had any criticism of his film, he took it terribly personally. It was body and soul to him.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/library/magazine/home/19990704mag-kubrick-profile.html


Regardless of Religion, Ideology, or Politics — Everyone Appreciates Kindness and Compassion

alex atkins bookshelf booksSome of the greatest treasures in a used bookstore are often found in the most unlikely places. These books are easy to miss because they have been misplaced or are tucked away behind a dusty stack of books — forlorn or forgotten for months, years, even decades. Recently, I came across a copy of The Dalai Lama, A Policy of Kindness: An Anthology of Writings by and About the Dalai Lama in mint condition — something rare for paperback books of this age. According to the bookseller’s penciled notation, the book was acquired in 2012. This amazingly brilliant and insightful book had been lurking in the shadows for more than 7 years. Hard to believe. But now that book found a home, and with this post, a wider audience. Although the book was published in 1990, it as relevant today as it was almost two decades ago. In his speech titled “Kindness and Compassion, the Dalai Lama, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, challenges us to overlook our differences in religion, ideology, race, politics, economics, and embrace what we all share as human beings: the pursuit of happiness, and need for kindness, and compassion. He offers us hope in a new religion — one that doesn’t require temples and complex history, but simply the philosophy of kindness, straight from the heart. Here are some highlights of that memorable and inspiring speech.”

“I want to speak to you this evening about the importance of kindness and compassion. When I speak about this, I regard myself not as a Buddhist, not as the Dalai Lama, not as a Tibetan, but rather as one human being. And, I hope that you in the audience will, at this moment, think of yourselves as human beings rather than as Americans, or Westerners, or members of any particular group. These things are secondary. If from my side and from the listeners’ side we interact as human beings, we can reach this basic level. If I say, ‘I am a monk;’ or ‘I am a Buddhist;’ these are, in comparison to my nature as a human being, temporary. To be a human is basic. Once you are born as a human being, that cannot change until death. Other things — whether you are educated or uneducated, rich or poor — are secondary.

Today we face many problems. Some are created essentially by ourselves based on divisions due to ideology, religion, race, economic status, or other factors. Therefore, the time has come for us to think on a deeper level, onthe human level, and from that level we should appreciate and respect the sameness of others as human beings. We must build closer relationships of mutual trust, understanding, respect, and help, irrespective of differences of culture, philosophy, religion, or faith.

After all, all human beings are the same — made of human flesh, bones, and blood. We all want happiness and want to avoid suffering. Further, we all have an equal right to be happy. In other words, it is important to realize our sameness as human beings. We all belong to one human family. That we quarrel with each other is due to secondary reasons, and all of this arguing with each other, cheating each other, suppressing each other is of no use.

Unfortunately, for many centuries, human beings have used all sorts of methods to suppress and hurt one another. Many terrible things have been done. It has meant more problems, more suffering, and more mistrust,resulting in more feelings of hatred and more divisions…

All of us want happiness. In cities, on farms, even in remote places, people are busy and active. What is the main purpose of this activity? Everyone is trying to create happiness. To do so is right. However, it is very important to follow a correct method in seeking happiness. We must keep in mind that too much involvement on a superficial level will not solve the larger problems.

There are all about us many crises, many fears. Through highly developed science and technology, we have reached an advanced level of material progress that is both useful and necessary. Yet, if you compare the external progress with our internal progress, it is quite clear that our internal progress is inadequate. In many countries, crises — murders, wars and terrorism — are chronic. People complain about the decline in morality and the rise in criminal activity. Although in external matters we are highly developed and continue to progress, at the same time it is equally important to develop and progress in terms of inner development….

Anger cannot be overcome by anger. If a person shows anger to you, and you respond with anger, the result is disastrous. In contrast, if you control anger and show opposite attitudes — compassion, tolerance, and patience — then not only do you yourself remain in peace, but the other’s anger will gradually diminish.

World problems similarly cannot be challenged by anger or hatred. They must be faced with compassion, love, and true kindness. Look at all the terrible weapons there are. Yet, the weapons themselves cannot start a war. The button to trigger them is under a human finger, which moves by thought, not under its own power. The responsibility rests in our thought.

If you look deeply into such things, the blueprint is found within — in the mind — out of which actions come. Thus, first controlling the mind is very important. I am not talking here about controlling the mind in the sense of deep meditation, but just about cultivating less anger, more respect for others’ rights, more concern for other people, more clear realization of our sameness as human beings… Rather than just advertising to make money for ourselves, we need to use these media for something meaningful, something seriously directed towards the welfare of humankind. Not money alone. Money is necessary, but the actual purpose of money is for human beings. Sometimes we lose interest in the human and are just concerned about money. This is not sensible.

After all, we all want happiness, and no one will disagree with the fact that with anger, peace is impossible. With kindness and love, peace of mind can be achieved. No one wants anger, no one wants mental unrest, yet because of ignorance, they occur. Bad attitudes, such as depression, arise from the power of ignorance, not of their own accord.

Through anger we lose one of the best human qualities — the power of judgement. We have a good brain, which other mammals do not have, allowing us to judge what is right and what is wrong, not only in terms of today’s concerns, but considering ten, twenty, or even a hundred years in the future. Without any precognition, we can use our normal common sense to determine if something is a right or wrong method; we can decide that if we do such and such, it will lead to such and such — effect. However, once our mind is occupied by anger we lose this power of judgement, and once lost, it is very sad. Physically you are a human being, but mentally you are incomplete. Given that we have this physical human form, we must safeguard our mental capacity for judgement. For that, we cannot take out insurance; the insurance company is within: self-discipline, self-awareness, and a clear realization of the disadvantages of anger and the positive effects of kindness. Thinking about this again and again, we can become convinced of it, and then with self-awareness, we can control the mind.

For instance, at present you may be a person who gets quickly and easily irritated by small things. With clear understanding and awareness, this can be controlled. If you usually remain angry for ten minutes, try to reduce it to eight. Next week make it five minutes and the next month two. Then make it zero. That is how to develop and train our minds.

This is my feeling and also the sort of practice I myself do. It is quite clear that everyone needs peace of mind. The question, then, is how to achieve it. Through anger we cannot; through kindness, through love, through compassion, we can achieve one individual’s peace of mind. The result of this is a peaceful family — happiness between parents and children, fewer quarrels between husband and wife; no worry about divorce. Extended to the national level, this attitude can bring unity, harmony, and cooperation with genuine motivation. On the international level, we need mutual trust, mutual respect, frank and friendly discussion with sincere motivation, and joint effort to solve world problems. All these are possible.

But first we must change within ourselves. Our national leaders try their best to solve our problems, but when one problern is solved, another one crops up; trying to solve that, again there is another somewhere else. The time has come to try a different approach. Of course, it is very diffiicult to achieve such a worldwide movement for peace of mind, but it is the only alternative. If there were another method that was easier and more practical, it would be better, but there is none….

Therefore, although it is difficult to attempt to bring about peace through internal transformation, this is the only way to achieve lasting world peace. Even if during my own lifetime it is not achieved, it is all right. More human beings will come, the next generation and the one after that, and progress can continue. I feel that despite the practical difficulties and the sense that this is regarded as an unrealistic view, it is worthwhile to make the attempt. Therefore, wherever I go, I express these things. I am encouraged that peoplefrom different walks of life generally receive it well.

Each of us has a responsibility for all humankind. It is time for us to think of other people as true brothers and sisters and to be concerned with their welfare, with lessening their suffering. Even if you cannot sacrifice your own benefit entirely, you should not forget the concerns of others. We should think more about the future and benefit of all humanity.

Also, if you try to subdue your selfish motives — anger, and so forth — and develop more kindness and compassion for others, ultimately you yourself will benefit more than you would otherwise. So sometimes I say that the wise selfish person should practice this way. Foolish selfish people are always thinking of themselves, and the result is negative. Wise selfish people think of others, help others as much as they can, and the result is that they too receive benefit.

This is my simple religion — there is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: The Wisdom of a Grandmother
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The Wisdom of Yoda
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What is the Meaning of the Feather in Forrest Gump?

alex atkins bookshelf moviesIn the opening sequence of the 1994 film Forrest Gump, we are mesmerized by a feather that floats downward from the clouds, caught in a gentle breeze — swirling and spinning delicately like some ethereal dancer. Eventually the feather reaches the ground, and is swept across a street by the motion of cars, landing at the foot of the film’s slow-witted but kind protagonist, Forrest Gump, who is sitting on a bench waiting to catch a bus. It captures his attention; he reaches down and grabs it and gently places it inside his favorite book, Curious George, that his mother read to him when he was a child. Then at the conclusion of the film, that same feather falls out of this book (Gump has now given the book to his son) and the feather is lifted back into the clouds by a gentle breeze. So, immediately we ask: what is the meaning of the feather in Forrest Gump? As we shall soon see, the feather is the perfect symbol for this film that, thanks to the brilliant screenwriting efforts of Eric Roth, works as a fable wrapped around a sweet love story — as opposed to the biting satire and cynical tone of the original novel of the same name by Winston Groom. And like one of Shakespeare’s fools, Gump may be simple-minded and a source of amusement, but he possesses all the wisdom that those around him clearly lack.

Fortunately, if you haven’t figured it out by the end of the film, Gump tells us in his soft- and plain-spoken way. In the last scene of the film, Gump is in a reflective mood and in a voiceover, explains: “I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze. But I think maybe it’s both.” And that is the central theme of this film: is life determined by fate or chance? In an interview, Tom Hanks, who played Gump, elaborates: “Our destiny is only defined by how we deal with the chance elements to our life and that’s kind of the embodiment of the feather as it comes in. Here is this thing that can land anywhere and that it lands at your feet. It has theological implications that are really huge.” Perhaps what Hanks actually meant to say was that the philosophical implications are huge. Some of the greatest philosophers, thinkers, and writers have grappled with that question and its implication of free will; that is to say, if our life is based on fate (determinism) or chance, do our choices matter? In the case of Gump, the answer is yes — it is chance and choice. It is perfectly summarized by the symbolism of the feather: even though the feather lands near him (chance), he notices it and picks it up (choice). And it is because he makes these choices, time after time, that he unwittingly plays a role in many defining events of the 20th century (teaching Elvis how to dance, reporting the Watergate break-in, inspiring the lyrics to John Lennon’s “Imagine”, the creation of the iconic smiley face, coining the phrase “shit happens,” etc.). 

On another level, the feather, with their connection to birds, represents flight and freedom. It also represent hope and inspiration. In the poem, “Hope” is the thing with feathers,” Emily Dickinson uses the feather as a central metaphor: “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers / That perches in the soul / And sings the tune without the words / And never stops at all.” For many tribal priests and shamans, the feather represents ascension or prayer, representing the magical communication with gods or the spirit world.

In her fascinating blog, Symbolic Meaning of Feathers, Avia Venifica, who studies the work of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, presents an in-depth exploration of the symbolism of feathers. Briefly, she discusses the feather as representing truth, spirit, travel, heaven, levity, flight, messages, ascension, and fertility. She also writes about the meaning of finding feathers, which is also relevant to the film. Venifica presents four meanings of finding a feather:

“1. Feathers are a reminder to count our blessings and be thankful for the good stuff going on in our lives.

2. Feathers are a symbol of levity. When seen, they remind us ease up on all the seriousness. Take a breath, relax, enjoy.

3. If feathers really are a communication tool to and from the gods, then their appearance is a reminder to listen to the bigger voice – as in a higher power.

4. Feathers often show up when there is someone or something that wants to reach out to us. Sometimes this might be a loved one who has passed into non-physical. A feather is a reminder you are loved by infinite people (both here on earth and otherwise).”

So is life determined by fate or chance? Some believe it is fate, others believe it is chance. Like Gump, many believe it is both? If you read enough biographies and have listen to the life stories of many people, you will realize that there is a common thread: serendipity. Someone was at the right place, at the right time, with the right person — and that has made a huge difference in their life journey, with respect to their education, career, or personal relationships (friendships, mentorships, and marriage). And herein lies one of the greatest life lessons: although you cannot create luck, propitious chance encounters — learn to identify serendipity and seize the opportunity.

The film, because it is a timeless fable, asks us one important question: if you are sitting on a bench and a feather floats by and rests near you, will you pick it up?

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: The Complete Dictionary of Symbols by Jack Tresidder
https://forrestgump227.wordpress.com/symbolism/
https://www.whats-your-sign.com/symbol-meaning-of-feathers.html


				

What is Collective Trauma?

alex atkins bookshelf cultureAccording to the American Psychological Association, trauma is defined as “the emotional response someone has to an extremely negative event. While trauma is a normal reaction to a horrible event, the effects can be so severe that they interfere with an individual’s ability to live a normal life. In a case such as this, help may be needed to treat the stress and dysfunction caused by the traumatic event and to restore the individual to a state of emotional well-being.” Collective trauma is when a certain distressing event, such as an environmental catastrophe, world war, genocide, terrorist attack, mass shootings, financial crisis, mass job losses, oppression, poverty, disease, or political crisis, has a traumatic psychological effect on a large group of people, a community, or an entire country or countries. The most frequently cited collective traumas include: WW I and WW II, The Holocaust, Slavery in America, and the 9-11 terrorist attacks. The concept of collective trauma was developed by French sociologist Emile Durkheim. Durkheim noted that values, rituals, and norms were the bonds that held society together — they provided solidarity, social cohesion. A collective trauma severs these bonds, destroys the social order, causes people to feel disoriented and disconnected, evokes a collective feeling, and can alter a society’s culture and mass actions. Sociologist Kai Erikson, author of Everything in Its Path (about the devastating Buffalo Creek flood of 1972), described how survivors were in a permanent state of shock, and struggled to find meaning and purpose in life. Sousan Abadian, a former fellow at the MIT Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformational Studies, notes that “collective trauma [is] at the level of culture — that culture has been damaged, meaning institutions, cultural practices, values, and beliefs.” Psychologist Jack Saul, author of Collective Trauma, Collective Healing, adds “[Some] of the features we often associate with collective traumas [are]: social rupturing and a profound sense of distress, the challenging of long-held assumptions about the world and national identity, a constricted public narrative, and a process of scapegoating and dehumanization.” Sound familiar?

In his thought-provoking article for The New York Times, “Are Americans Experiencing Collective Trauma?”, sociologist Neil Gross argues that the election of 2016 is a classic example of a collective trauma. Gross writes: “[The 2016] presidential election has collective trauma written all over it…. Mr. Trump’s victory signals that that world, with the assurances it offered that there were some lines those seeking power wouldn’t cross (or that the American electorate wouldn’t let them cross), is no longer. Rightly or wrongly, memories have been activated of historical traumas linked with anti-democratic politics, such as the emergence of fascism in interwar Europe and the rise of Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s.” Tulane psychology professor Charles Figley also believes that the 2016 election is a collective trauma: “First and foremost it’s on everyone’s mind and it’s discussed frequently. There are signs and symbols associated with it. Mentioning a particular slogan or singing a particular song simply connects people to the phenomenon and reminds everyone they are in the same boat.” And unfortunately, Figley observes, there is a nasty side effect: racism and xenophobia; he elaborates: “People tend to separate from people that are different from them, connecting with people that are like them, and share their concerns, and vilify the opposition.” Yale sociologist Ronald Eyerman, who co-edited Narrating Trauma: On the Impact of Collective Suffering, believes that the recent presidential election felt less like losing a election, and more like the assassination of a revered leader, like John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, or Harvey Milk. Eyerman explains, “[Milk’s] death was first collectively mourned in a massive march through the streets of San Francisco… The [killer’s manslaughter] verdict was interpreted by many in the collective, the San Francisco gay community, as a betrayal, a failure of American institutions, in this case the courts, the police and the justice system as a whole to do justice to an aggrieved group. This betrayal and loss of faith in American institutions threatened the very foundations of collective identity.”

Is there a path of healing for those communities that suffer from collective trauma? Most experts agree that collective trauma will remain chronic and reoccur if social causes are not properly addressed and if perpetrators are not held accountable for their actions. With respect to historical collective trauma, mental health experts typically identify four required steps for healing: confronting trauma, understanding the trauma, releasing the pain, and transcendence. Joy DeGruy, author of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, emphasizes the importance revisiting and studying the initial behavior/event rather as opposed to denying that it ever occurred. Armand Volkas, a psychotherapist and child of Holocaust survivors, explores the potential perpetrator in all of us, as a way of humanizing the enemy, and bringing people together. Figley believes that people eventually figure out a way out of collective trauma: “When a community collectively experiences a trauma, people ask each other questions about what happened and why it happened, who caused it whether it will happen again. Over a period of time there is an accommodation to loss, stock-taking, and gradual acceptance, and then creating new things in the wake of these changes that you didn’t want. People figure out what to do to feel safe again — physically or psychologically.”

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Read related posts: The Thirteen Commandments
The Wisdom of Elie Wiesel
In the Face of Suffering One Has No Right to Turn Away

For further reading: www.nytimes.com/2016/12/16/opinion/sunday/are-americans-experiencing-collective-trauma.html
http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/love-and-the-apocalypse/free-yourself-from-the-past
https://qz.com/889753/trump-inauguration-collective-trauma/

http://www.vanityfair.com/news.2018/02/monica-lewinsky-in-the-age-of-metoo


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